The cold winters in Cobourg call for a reliable source of heat. Unless you’re relying on a fire to heat your home this winter, a burning smell can be an unwelcome and concerning event. Since furnaces produce heat, they can produce a wide variety of odors. While some of these smells are harmless, others call for quick action from Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning. To help distinguish between these burning smells to protect your family and property, here are a few ways to help identify the cause of unusual furnace odors.

How a Furnace Works

It is helpful to understand the different parts of a furnace and how they work together to help shed light on which components might be causing the burning smell. When your thermostat calls for heat, it sends an electrical signal to the furnace. Most furnaces are equipped with a circuit board that communicates with multiple sensors on the furnace to ensure the furnace turns on and off safely. Once all of the sensors detect the correct conditions, the pilot light ignites the gas that is coming into the burner. The resulting flame warms the heat exchanger, and then the blower fan sends cool air over the heat exchanger to increase the temperature of the air and send it throughout your home. Many of these components can cause burning smells of varying severity.

Burning Smell at the Beginning of Winter

If it’s finally cold enough to turn on your furnace for the first time in several months, you will likely notice a burning smell during its first cycle. This is the only burning smell that’s completely normal and doesn’t require a call to Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning. This smell happens when the dust that settled on the burner and heat exchanger starts to burn. It’s actually a good thing that this occurs because it helps improve the efficiency of your furnace. Even if you have a good air filter in place, some dust will still find its way into your furnace when you’re not using it. Any time you don’t use your furnace for more than a few days, you can expect to experience this burning smell for at least a few minutes.

When the Smell Sticks Around

Assuming the burning smell goes away after the first few cycles of the heating season, there is nothing to worry about. However, if that smell sticks around over many hours or days, there could be cause for concern. It’s worth mentioning, though, that if the smell is dissipating but not entirely going away, you may simply have dirty ducts and not a more serious problem. The dust in dirty ducts can trap the smokey odors from the burning of the dust in the furnace. This can cause the odor to seep into your home over several days. As long as the smell isn’t getting worse and your furnace is operating normally, you may want to have Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning come to your home to see if your ducts need to be cleaned.

Broken Sensors

Your furnace depends on multiple sensors to ensure it operates within safe parameters. Unfortunately, these sensors can sometimes fail. One vital sensor monitors the temperature of key components in your furnace. If the temperature exceeds a specific threshold, the sensor can immediately shut your furnace down. However, if that sensor isn’t working, heat can continue to build up in the furnace until components within the furnace start to melt or burn. When this happens, you’ll likely notice a burning smell that slowly increases in intensity until it suddenly gets exceptionally worse when something combusts. Typically, a furnace won’t overheat if you change your air filter on time. That’s why Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning always preaches the importance of checking your air filter monthly.

Burning Plastic

Vents can be fascinating things, especially for children and pets. Unfortunately, this means that foreign objects sometimes get dropped through the vents and into the ductwork. Depending on the layout of the ductwork, some of these objects could end up in your furnace. Plastic objects are one of the most common culprits of burning smells in furnaces because they tend to be small, light, and easy to forget about if they’re lost. If you notice the odor of burning plastic coming through your vents, it’s best to turn off your furnace and call Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning right away. Although the object that’s melting could eventually go away entirely, it could also end up getting smaller and falling into more sensitive components of your furnace, causing serious damage in the process. You should avoid any risk of damage or further discomfort by getting professional assistance to help with the removal of the object.

Electrical Issues

No matter what type of furnace you have, all furnaces rely on electrical power for certain functions. That’s why an electrical burning smell is a possibility for any homeowner whose home has a furnace. The good news is that the electrical cables found in furnaces are extremely well-insulated against heat. However, this insulation can break down over time, so if your furnace is exceptionally old, you could end up with a significant electrical problem. Electrical burning smells tend to permeate the air, meaning that the source of the problem could be hard to locate. It could be that the electrical wires in and around the furnace are just fine, but the electrical supply wires that run through your home to the furnace are malfunctioning. In any event, if you notice an electrical burning smell only when your furnace is running, it’s important to turn it off immediately and wait until someone can take a look at it.

Circuit Board Issues

Given the average lifespan of a furnace, nearly every furnace that is now heating homes will have some type of circuit board. On older furnaces, this circuit board exists merely to deliver electricity in a specific order when electrical circuits on the attached sensors open. On newer furnaces, a circuit board often has serious computing power to allow the furnace to extract more heat energy from the available fuel. Any type of circuit board, whether old or new, can malfunction and cause a burning smell in your home. Most customers of Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning liken the smell of a melted circuit board to burning gunpowder, though your experience may vary. Problems like an electrical surge, an overloaded sensor, or a broken solder joint can all cause a circuit board in a furnace to overheat and begin to melt, causing the awful smell to spread throughout your home.

Keeping You Warm and Safe

At Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning, our number one priority is to keep our customers safe in their own homes. That’s why we work hard to provide quality furnace repairs, air conditioner installations, and overall HVAC maintenance. We can also install air purifying equipment, water heaters, ductless HVAC systems, and much more. For over ten years, we’ve been working hard to deliver outstanding results to our customers by focusing on integrity and constant improvement. This customer-first approach is one reason why you’ll find that we consistently receive five-star reviews. To learn more about troubleshooting common furnace problems in a safe way, contact us at Comfort Zone Heating & Air Conditioning today.

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